Who’s better at preparing tomorrow’s campaigners: LSE or Harvard?

May 27, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

Enough about aid, let’s talk about campaigning. By pure coincidence, I’ve been spending time with a bunch of Master in Public Adminstration (MPA) students recently – fascinating, not least because of the different approaches taken by their courses. Last week, the winning team from this year’s crop at the London School of Economics came in to pitch us their idea for a campaign on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. CAP reform is an old chestnut (I know people who have been working on it for 40 years – long before this CAP reformlot were born), but they had some smart new angles. Their powerpoint is here, but the basic elements were:

1. Reform don’t scrap the CAP: move subsidies away from market support – and market-distorting – measures (so-called “Pillar 1”, which pushes up prices for European consumers and leads to dumping elsewhere) towards rural development (“Pillar 2”) measures, which focusses on making the European countryside more prosperous and environmentally sound.

2. Potential new economic drivers of change to the CAP include the fiscal crisis in member states, the EU’s eastward expansion (lots more farmers, which makes the current CAP far more expensive) and energy insecurity (which makes growing biofuels a lot more attractive)

3. Add to that an important institutional change: the Lisbon Treaty includes a provision for a ‘European Citizens’ Initiative’ (ECI) – anyone that can get a million signatures from at least 9 member states on a call for new legislation will be considered for inclusion in the European Parliament’s legislative timetable. The initiative should be up and running by December and the first successful ECI should have a particularly good chance of winning, since it will be seen as a test of increased democracy and the relevance of EU institutions. 

4. Finally, the timetable for CAP reform includes a major review in 2013, with involvement of both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The students had done their analysis of member states’ likely positions on such a reform, noting that France is moving from net CAP recipient to net contributor (surprise surprise, net recipients are usually much more pro-CAP), and Germany is big on green energy and fiscal austerity, so both may be more supportive of CAP reform than in the past.

What I liked about this was the students’ analysis of the politics of change – what we call ‘power analysis’ in Oxfam, which I explored in HCHthe How Change Happens section of From Poverty to Power. The book argues that to understand change, and how to influence it, you need to think about

a) Context: in this case, fiscal crisis, energy insecurity
b) Institutions: Eastward expansion; the introduction of the ECI
c) Agents: environmental movement, Oxfam as potential leader, shifting interests in member states
d) Events: the 2013 review

Our advice to the students was that the power analysis was great, but since the new drivers were domestic (energy security, fiscal crisis) they should look to the consumer or environmental movements to lead an ECI.

All this was quite a contrast with Harvard, where as far as I could tell on my recent visit, the MPA in International Development concentrates on technical (economic and administrative) excellence, but includes very little on power, influencing, lobby strategies etc. I suspect the equivalent presentation from their students would be a detailed economic analysis of the evils of the CAP, followed by a general demand for reform and political will. When I raised this with Lant Pritchett, who runs the programme, he said it’s because they can’t find any decent political scientists. In Harvard?! Maybe somebody could help him out. (Note that the LSE’s full name is the London School of Economics and Political Science.)

If you’re a would-be CAP campaigner who wants to know more about the LSE proposal, contact Joe Wales at j.wales@lse.ac.uk or Luis Suarez-Isaza at l.suarez-isaza@lse.ac.uk. The other members of the team were Brian Fuller, Daria Kuznetsova and Sarah Hauser.

And if you have a view on the rival merits of LSE and Harvard, (or on the dangers of elitism) I imagine I’m going to hear from you……..

Update: Make sure you read the comments, especially those from Lant, who sets out in some detail why my first impressions are completely wrong. I fear he’s probably right……. I was also struck by Chelsea Brass’ comment that you are much more likely to pick up influencing skills out there in the real world than picking up rigorous economic analysis, so best to concentrate on the latter while you’re a student. But I don’t agree with those who reckon campaigning can’t be taught – I’ve seen Catherine Barber’s Greenpeace guy teaching a bunch of civil servants at the Uk Foreign Office and it was truly impressive (and a little scary). Last word? Maybe the distinction is not between studying politics or not, but between taking a theoretical or a practical approach – one seeks to understand, the other seeks to actually influence. They require different skills and approaches. (But I’m sure Harvard has loads of both, OK?)